So the €1,000 weanling was all the go four years ago in Ennis, or indeed Cahirciveen in Kerry. Go back to July 2020 and if you got €2.50/kg that was the run of it for the 400kg bull.

Yesterday in Cahirciveen the average was closer to €3.50/kg. That’s a 40% rise in price over the four years. So instead of a weanling making €1,000, it’s now closer to €1,000 with the weight, or a €1,400 selling price for the Charolais bull weanling.

So with that significant price rise, is it not enough to sustain the suckler cow on the rural western seaboard?

The suckler registration numbers on the island of Ireland would suggest not.

Now the big switch from sucklers has been in the dairy counties. Milking cows have replaced sucklers where the land, labour, and resources are more plentiful.

In those counties, there has been in excess of a 25% decline in suckler numbers over the last ten years. In the likes of Kerry and Clare, the decline has been much less, about 12% in total over ten years.

Alternative farm income options are just not there when land quality is mixed and only facilities for sucklers are in place.


Coming back to the farmer margin – surely a 40% rise in price leaves more in farmers’ pockets? The reality is the move upwards on input prices has eroded any benefit to the farmer of the 40% price rise in weanlings.

Over the same four year timeframe, we have seen energy prices up 55%, electricity up 65%, fertiliser up 52% and feed up 30%. So the margin from the 40% price rise for the best of the stock quickly disappears.

So what will happen farms in these areas where the suckler cow is disappearing? The dairy beef model doesn’t really fit, as a high stocking rate on poor quality land won’t match.


The sheep flock is also in decline, so sheep are not the answer it seems. The reality is it looks like this land that carried the suckler cow will be left idle and very quickly, once it’s not farmed, it will revert to the more natural vegetation of rushes, reeds and trees.

On this ‘sustainability’ journey we hear so much about, ‘just transition’ and alternative income sources for farming: it’s as if farmers have numerous ‘off the shelf’ options to pick from. It’s such nonsense.

So is everyone happy with this? As an industry, as farmers collectively watching this sector in demise, are we comfortable seeing this sector disappear before our eyes? W

e see airline pilots lined up on strike expecting a 25% wage increase on an income about ten times that of the average suckler cow farmer.

They will drive more and more airplanes to burn more fossil fuels. And as we go to press, it looks like they’ll succeed in their demands.

Yet the 20 cow suckler farmer in west Kerry living on one tenth of the salary, producing biogenic methane, not fossil fuel, has to carry the burden for changing agri-emissions.

Not only that, but they carry the market risk and input cost inflation. Would you blame farmers for thinking everyone is against them?

At the Teagasc Grange open day last week, Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) chairperson Marie Donnelly said the sector is not even providing suckler farmers with the most basic direction or signal to a low emissions farming future.

Sitting on stage beside her CCAC colleague and Teagasc director Dr Frank O’Mara, she called out the fact that farmers couldn’t even buy protected urea if they wanted because it’s not in stock in the co-op stores when they go to buy it.

Secondly, she said the factories talk about lowering slaughter age but they weren’t incentivising young beef. This, she said, is the most basic step to sending a signal to farmers about the right thing to do. When business interests get in the way of ‘sustainability’ everyone goes running for cover, except for the farmers.

We talk about collaboration and being in this together, but when someone on the outside like Marie Donnelly calls out the facts, we act as if we are surprised.

Teagasc is working in partnership with the factories and the fertiliser companies, but it seems to be the farmers that are making the biggest moves, while the rest hold on to what margins they have.

The average farmer who keeps it all going suffers and we watch the continued slow demise of the suckler industry. Teagasc says the average finishing age of suckler bred cattle is reducing on average by one week per year for the last 15 years.

That’s a reduction of 15 weeks or almost four months per head over the last 15 years. So irrespective of what the factories do, farmers are moving.

So in summary – the price increase is very welcome, but, only barely matches the input cost increase. The real value of EU support – the subsidies – has declined significantly.

The big switch out of sucklers to milking cows in some counties has stopped now. The inequity between agri, energy and transport sectors continues and farmers remain on the hind tit.

Marie Donnelly is right, everyone needs to make a move – not just farmers.

How can we expect farmers to invest in low emission slurry spreading or more nutrient storage if low hanging fruit like price signals from factories and protected urea is not on the table.